Today is the last day of National Clean Beaches Week but reducing trash in the ocean and on our shorelines, especially plastic debris, is important all year long! What is Clean Beaches Week? (Video)
Holiday weekends such as Memorial Day and 4th of July are very popular times to head to the coast – it is estimated that 4th of July is the biggest beach holiday in America. Tourism in Florida has been growing a great deal over the past several years. Growing pressure on our beaches and waterways means it’s more important than ever to reduce plastic pollution and other litter.
Why are plastics a hazard in the ocean?
Plastics are a hazard in the ocean in many ways – marine life can easily become entangled or trapped in plastic trash or can mistake the plastic for food and ingest it. Marine life that become tangled in plastic or that eat plastic are likely to die painful and slow deaths as a result. This is a big problem, especially for birds, dolphins, whales, and endangered animals like sea turtles.
Plastic in the ocean is also a problem for fisheries and humans because plastic degrades into tiny pieces that make their way into the food web. Small plastic particles (called microplastics) can trap high amounts of toxins on their surface. The plastic and the toxins can carry through the food web into the fish we eat. We are only now realizing the magnitude of this problem and it has unknown effects on fisheries and human health.
What you can do to help
- Limit use of single use plastics. We should do away with the notion that plastic is “disposable” because plastics take a very long time to degrade. Some of the most com
mon plastic items found in the ocean are plastic bags, plastic caps and lids, plastic drinking straws, and plastic beverage bottles. You can really cut down on plastic use by bringing your own cloth bags to the grocery store, purchasing items packaged in paper or glass whenever possible, using a refillable metal or glass water bottle, and stopping your use of plastic drinking straws.
- Recycle. Of course, you should recycle whenever possible but recycling is not a true solution to plastic pollution in the ocean – many items are not recyclable and recycling is not 100% efficient. Focus on limiting plastic use first, and recycle when you can’t avoid using plastic.
- Limit sources of microplastics. Purchase personal care products that do not contain polyethylene and stick to all natural fabrics, as synthetic fibers are some of the most common types of microplastic found in Florida’s waters.
- Be a responsible angler. Recycle your used monofilament in a specially designed monofilament recycling bin like the pictured on the right. Monofilament can’t be recycled in regular recycling bins but these special PVC bins can be found at many boat ramps and fishing piers.
- Participate in marine cleanup events. Many coastal communities host clean-ups you can take part in. Or, gather some friends and start your own shoreline cleanup!
- Pledge to make a change. You can take the pledge to reduce your plastic use or accept the challenge for a plastic free July!
Video: Robert Annis, UF/IFAS Communications
Photos: Tyler Jones, Amy Stuart, and file photos, UF/IFAS Communications, Sue Colson